By Cooper Smith Koch
When we bought our Kessler Park house seven years ago this month, we acknowledged that it had a handful of “fatal flaws” that kept it from realizing its full potential. In fact, the house had been on the market for nearly a year before Todd and I first looked at it — and then we hemmed and hawed ourselves for almost a year before we finally took the plunge, right as the housing market was crashing … snagging it for about 60 percent of its original list price.
First, the dark galley kitchen was horrific: plastic countertops (yes, plastic that a hot pot could melt through), ancient appliances, peach-painted cabinets and access from the rest of the house only through a claustrophobic butler’s pantry. About four years ago, we remedied that “flaw” by blowing out walls, combining four small rooms into one and completely moving the kitchen from the back of the house to face the street. It’s now the favorite area of our home.
Now, we’re tackling the second biggest flaw: the backyard…or lack thereof.
Despite the fact that our house sits on nearly half an acre of beautiful, wooded Kessler Park land, we have almost no back yard. The hill behind us starts about six feet behind the house and climbs at a pretty steep, untamed pace. It was more an annoyance than a problem until we adopted our two kids, who are both now 5 years old and aching for outdoor space.
And so, late last year, we decided to renovate the backyard by adding a pool and outdoor living areas, as well as turning our “upper yard” (a random strip of grass between retaining walls) into a space that our family could enjoy.
Where to start though?
Our first step was enlisting a landscape architect to help us realize what’s even possible. After getting lots of referrals and talking to many folks, we hired Michael Parkey, who wisely convinced us that our side yard was the best place to put the pool – both from a construction and entertaining perspective. After about six months of back and forth, we had a plan that we could take to pool builders .. .whose initial quotes came in at the quarter million-dollar mark, mostly due to the massive excavation and retaining walls required.
That wasn’t happening.
After another few more months of revisions, we came up with a plan that reduced the need for a lot of the retaining walls and brought the budget down to something we thought was a more sound investment in our home, as well.
Last week, Steve Sandler’s Gold Medal Pools started excavation on what they expect to be a 10- to 12-week construction project. It’s amazing how quickly things start to come together when you have a monster scooper invade your backyard to carve out an equally-monstrous slice of hillside that’ll eventually be an amazing outdoor oasis in the heart of the city.
Cooper Smith Koch, principal of public relations firm Cooper Smith Agency and publisher of “HeSaid” magazine, is known for his sharp sense of humor and that one time his family was featured in a JCPenney ad campaign. Cooper lives in Kessler Park with his husband, Todd, and their two children, Claire and Mason. Follow him on twitter @cooperkoch.